Whether you own or rent a home—or a business—you know that heating and cooling are some of the most important but costly expenses required to operate a building. Winter and summer bring the harshest temperatures, so naturally, the energy bills are higher during those seasons as your system works its hardest. Since summer is rapidly approaching—or in some places it has already hit—let’s go over some of the ways you can keep your cooling system energy efficient and keep costs as low as possible during the summer months.
- Programmable Thermostat
- Sealing and Insulation
Proper maintenance for your AC unit may seem like a no-brainer to some, but it’s easy to forget as time passes that regular maintenance is necessary to keep your unit running smoothly and efficiently. A properly maintained air conditioner should last around 15 years, but for each year that it operates unattended, it loses approximately 5% of its efficiency. The first simple step to proper AC maintenance is changing the filter monthly. Changing the filter takes little to no time, and it is especially essential during the summer, with more allergens and dust circulating. Filters are inexpensive—purchase several at once and store them in an easy-to-reach location; set a monthly reminder for yourself to switch them out. Be sure to look over the manufacturer’s guidelines for your unit for instructions specific to your model.
Regular maintenance by a professional is also vital for the energy efficiency and long life of your unit. A yearly cleaning, inspection, and tune-up by a pro just before the hot weather hits will ensure that your unit will work properly and efficiently all summer long. Tune-ups generally cost somewhere between $70–$100, which is a very small price to keep your unit running its best. Pros will clean or replace the coils in your AC unit, which is necessary for it to work properly—and clean/new coils save you money. Dirty coils can increase cooling bills by up to 30%. Pros also make sure that the unit is sufficiently lubricated and has the right amount of Freon. If your unit is very old, you may consider an upgrade to a unit with better technology and a higher efficiency rating. While an upgrade does require up-front costs, a newer model will save more money over the long term.
Using a programmable thermostat can also keep your costs down and help you make the best use of your system; proper use of a programmable thermostat can save you around $180 per year. Keep in mind that each degree you lower your AC below 78 raises your energy use approximately 8%. So the higher the temperature you can stand, the more you will save. And when you program your thermostat properly, you won’t have to worry about resetting the temp when you go to bed or leave for work. Keeping the unit from running constantly when you aren’t in the building not only keeps costs down, but it also reduces unnecessary wear and tear on the unit. Several digital thermostats will even notify you when the filter is dirty and needs to be replaced.
Be sure to have your thermostat properly installed, and follow the manufacturer’s directions for programming and use. Energy Star also has detailed guidelines on their website (https://www.energystar.gov/products/heating_cooling/programmable_thermostats/proper_use_guidelines) to help you use your thermostat for energy efficiency and comfort. After all, this is what it was designed for, so why not use it properly?
Sealing and Insulation
Proper insulation and sealing in your home or business are also essential for energy efficiency and keeping cooling costs down. If air is leaking out through windows, doors, or vents, that is money and energy wasted. Caulking and weather-stripping are some inexpensive weatherization steps you can take to keep as much of your cooled air inside as possible—and keep the warm air from sneaking inside the building.
Solar screens or window films are another relatively inexpensive way to keep your building cooler and increase the AC unit’s efficiency. The screens or films are installed on the outside of the windows; screens block up to 70% of solar energy before it reaches the inside of the building, and films reflect the heat away from it. Both are excellent options for reducing cooling costs, especially in warmer climates.
If your unit is outdoors, it will operate more efficiently if it is in a shaded area. If the air that the AC is pulling in is already cooler to begin with, it will not have to work as hard to cool it down when it brings it to the inside. Planting trees or installing awnings near the outdoor unit will keep it cooler, as well as providing shade for the building. Landscaping outside the home or business makes a difference as well; if there is too much rock or concrete on the west and south sides, the temperature immediately outside the building will be warmer. Trees, grass, and shrubs near the building and the unit will create a cooler climate, making less work for your AC and maintaining cooler temps inside as well. Be sure to keep the vegetation 2–4 feet away from the outdoor unit to allow for proper air intake, and check for debris buildup often to keep the unit as clean as possible.
Investing in ceiling or freestanding fans is another inexpensive way to maintain cooler temperatures indoors in your home or business. Once the air is pulled in from outside and cooled, fans will circulate the cool air, keeping the AC from running constantly. This will allow you to raise your thermostat as many as four degrees higher than you otherwise would without losing comfort levels. Ceiling fans are the best option for larger buildings and rooms, as they vary in size and help circulate the air throughout spacious areas. Ceiling fans that are certified by Energy Star are 60% more efficient than traditional ceiling fans, with upgraded blade and motor designs to help you save energy and money. For smaller rooms or buildings, more inexpensive freestanding fans will suffice. Remember to turn fans off when you leave a room, however; the fans themselves do not cool the air down.
Don’t forget about the fan on your AC unit, either. Some experts recommend keeping the fan running to keep the cooled air circulating. While this may be a bit more expensive than running area fans, it will still help keep cooling costs down and keep the unit from having to work as hard. On especially humid days, however, it’s best to keep your AC fan set to low if you have that option. When air moves more slowly through the AC equipment, it removes more moisture inside the building.
Staying cool over the summer is important, but so is keeping costs down. Following these tips for your home and/or business will help you do both—keeping you comfortable and your building energy efficient.
Walker Reid Strategies specializes in energy efficiency, focusing on 179D deductions and 45L tax credits. We partner with many energy and tax organizations to educate and advise the public on strategies for energy efficiency and related tax deductions and benefits. Contact us directly for more information.